Friday, December 12, 2008

"...protecting the rights of poor folk." (The class warfare of Arthur Penn's, Bonnie and Clyde)

"They will certainly plant vineyards and eat their fruitage; they will not plant and someone else do the eating."

Isaiah 65: 21,22

In a symbolic gesture of solidarity as simple, righteous, and revolutionary as allowing a poor farmer to keep his money, while robbing a bank of its money, Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) legitimizes and justifies everything that he and his gang do, throughout Arthur Penn's lurid manifestation of the French New Wave, Bonnie and Clyde (1967). At least, in my eyes, it legitimizes and justifies everything that they do. But for those obedient, law-abiding citizens who unquestioningly accept the laws that some of us view as nothing more than insidious mechanisms for the perpetuation of the class system, Clyde's gesture--at least--illuminates a legitimate moral counterbalance, against the gang's--otherwise--anarchistic criminality, that is difficult for a conscious soul to ignore.

The actions of Clyde Barrow and his gang--in the spirit of John Steinbeck's mythological, migrant antihero, Tom Joad--highlight the vast gulf that often exists between genuine justice, and the law, and in doing so, call into question the very foundation on which the average citizen bases his or her perceptions of criminals and criminality. And in this respect, no era in American history could serve as a more exemplary contextual backdrop, for a time marked by the confusion of conventional ideas of right and wrong, than the Great Depression. Simply put, in an era when banks ceaselessly and mercilessly throw farmers and their families off of their land--land that these families have commonly farmed for generations--than the banks and the law that protects them, become the enemies of the people. And thus, any form of resistance or retribution is legitimate and justified.

The systematic attrition--and eventual extinction--of the family farmer, is one of the most infuriating and lamentable injustices of the Great Depression, in particular, and in the saga of the class struggle in the United States, in general. And in Bonnie and Clyde, Clyde Barrow--the son of sharecroppers--and his gang, are fighting a war against the shameless enemy of this inestimable number of forsaken farming families. This of course explains the repeated scenes of solidarity we see between the Barrow gang and the farmers that they encounter.

One of the first of such scenes (and perhaps my favorite), is when Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde are camped out at an abandoned farmhouse. As they are outside taking target practice with their pistols, the farmer who used to own the farm happens upon them while he is taking one "last look" at the empty house and fallow land that the "Midlothian Citizen's Bank" now owns. As the farmer tells them of how the "bank took it...[and] moved us off," we see that he has his wife and kids, and everything they own, piled high in his truck--assumedly to join the great "okie" diaspora to California (And it was indeed a diaspora, because regardless of natural calamities of drought, wind, and heat, what would ultimately disperse this vast wave of distraught farming families--westward--from the great plains, would be the venal and deplorable proclivities of the banks).

This mournful scenario was played out an innumerable number of times during the Depression, and is lucidly depicted in the following passage from John Steinbeck's invaluable story of this shameful period in America's history, The Grapes of Wrath:

"And a homeless hungry man, driving the road with his wife beside him and his thin children in the back seat, could look at the fallow fields which might produce food but not profit, and that man could know how a fallow field is a sin and the unused land a crime against the thin children....And in the south he saw the golden oranges hanging on the trees, the little golden oranges on the dark, green trees; and guards with shotguns patrolling the lines so a man might not pick an orange for a thin child, oranges to be dumped if the price was low...."

So when Clyde hands the farmer the pistol--after taking a few self-gratifying shots himself--and the farmer and his farmhand, "Davis," (who the farmer had "put in the years" on the farm with) take their shots at the empty house and the "Property-of Midlothian-Citizen's-Bank" sign that is out front of the house, there are smiles on everyone's faces (including us viewers). Not only this, but a conscious, compassionate soul is stirred, and ready to see some banks get robbed.

There are indeed a number of other scenes that convey the aforementioned solidarity and appreciation for the Barrow gang's class warfare. For instance, after Bonnie and Clyde have both been wounded, and C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard), in desperate need of "drinking water," happens upon a shanty town of homeless, migrant farmers, the farmers not only give the gang water, but food as well. Likewise, when the Barrow gang captures Captain Frank Hamer (Denver Pyle), Clyde--laughing about the confusion of conventional ideas of right and wrong--recalls how "down in Duncanville last year...poor farmers kept you laws from us with shotguns." One again, when the banks, and the law protecting them, become the enemies of the people, than anyone attacking the banks and the law, becomes the friend of the people.

Of course, Captain Hamer, who is a Texas Ranger, catches up with the Barrow gang in Missouri, attempting to catch them and get "the extra reward money" that the banks are offering for them. Here, Clyde appropriately admonishes Captain Hamer's blatant disregard for his duty to protect and serve back in his own state, by reminding him that he "ought to be home protecting the rights of poor folk."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Burning Bridges (addendum)

So, the first part of this...hmmmmmmm...discussion...yeah, sure, this discussion about Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend, was impulsively scribbled right after we viewed that weirdness in class last Tuesday. And now, sitting here at my desk with a hot cup of Cafe Bustelo, in the genial comfort of my apartment, on this delicious Sunday morning--after yesterday's snow-storm--I see that what I wrote last Tuesday, was indeed an emotional put it mildly.

And I meant every fucking word of it. And Godard's punk ass would probably be quite pleased about fucking with someone's emotions to such a degree--although he would probably be surprised about what exactly has me so vexed. Because, aside from the utterly pointless slaughter of animals, I feel Godard on pretty much everything he condemns and is pissed about, and likewise, I feel Godard's unique and confrontational ways of expressing these things. Weekend is--quite literally--in a category of filmmaking all by itself. With Weekend, Godard has taken the film, as an art form, and brought it to a disquieting, acrid, and "alienating" (as the truth often is) extreme that transcends the banality and benignity of mere "entertainment." Simply put, Weekend is as close to being a weapon--of sorts--as a work of art can get.

But... is still nevertheless, merely a work of art--and a work of art that caused the completely unnecessary and horrendous suffering of a few innocent, sentient animals. A few animals that some of us consider as precious and important as any human asshole running around. I've physically--had to--hurt (and been hurt by) a number of other human beings over the years, but I've never hurt (or been hurt by) an animal. They simply do not have it coming--at all. Aside from that, there is that mortal debacle that Milan Kundera writes about in The Unbearable Lightness of Being:

"True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it."

Now, Professor Shaviro, I'm sure that if you understood how serious some of us are about all of this, than I assume that you wouldn't have sarcastically and dismissively commented about not knowing Godard's "culinary politics," during our discussion in class. Fuck Godard and his "culinary politics." With all due respect, to reduce this issue to nothing more than a person's "culinary politics," is to take the typical, benighted, myopic, gluttonous perspective of a consumer. The animal and its well-being, isn't even a factor in that equation. Or as Matthew Scully puts it:

"When you look at an [animal] and see only a pest, or vermin, or a meal, or a commodity, or a laboratory subject, you aren't seeing the [animal] anymore. You are seeing only yourself and the schemes and appetites we bring to the world."

I cannot overstate how much I share Godard's disgust and disillusionment with things, or how much I agree with him about pretty much everything I've seen him attack in his films--especially consumerism. And even more so, the United States' malignant and ruinous extreme of consumerism. But Godard's irreverent disregard for the value of something as simple and precious as the life of a pig, is--in my eyes--the same kind of disregard that underlies consumerism, and it is also a lucid manifestation of the same kind of cursed human audacity that defined the United States' behavior in Vietnam. It is this same kind of infuriating disregard and human audacity that has culminated in the ceaseless, industrialized, torturous, systematic, merciless slaughter of over 700,000 animals--700,000 sentient creatures--every hour of every day, in our country's modern "factory farms." That breaks down to--among all of the other animals killed daily--over 90,000 cows and calves every 24 hours, over 355,000 pigs every 24 hours, and over 14,000 chickens every motherfucking minute.

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated."

Mahatma Gandhi

Burning Bridges

As this final section of our semester has run its course, and the Godard films have--as we were warned they would--become increasingly non-linear, unsettling, "alienating" (as the truth often is), abrasive, confrontational, and idealistic, I have increasingly dug what I have been seeing. I--feel I--completely understand why he was so disgusted with what was happening throughout the late 1950s, the 1960s, and the early 1970s. I do think that those particular fifteen-to-twenty years were a dismal watershed for the planet as a whole--but especially for all of the countries that can be lumped into the ignominious category of "the west."

My increasing fondness for Godard and his films, is not simply the result of my perspective of mankind's social, political, and industrial structures being from as far left as Godard's increasingly was. You do not have to be a communist or a socialist to be mortally disheartened and infuriated by circumstances like the United States' barbaric behavior in--among other places--Vietnam, or the increasing pervasiveness of the hollow and cursed consequences of western consumer culture, or the ceaselessly widening gap between rich and poor, or the all-out industrial/technological assault on the environment.

But it helps--to at least channel this anger and concern. The recurrent and acute anti-Americanism in Godard's Pierrot Le Fou (1965), Masculin Feminin (1966), Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967), and finally Weekend (1967) is by all means warranted. The United States was and is the breeding ground for pretty much every deplorable, regrettable, and ruinous debacle plaguing this planet--either directly or indirectly, you can trace most of it back to "the good ol' U. S. of A." So for the most part, I have been increasingly on the same page as Godard, as we have been following him along his filmic evolution--or devolution.


...with Weekend, Godard has lost--even--me. For one gigantic fucking reason that I couldn't ignore if I tried--he actually kills animals. I am one of those anomalies that does not exalt human life over any other creature's life, and by slaughtering animals in his film, Godard--in my eyes--has reduced himself to the level of any murderous American soldier running around in Vietnam, annihilating "women and children." Fuck him--if I'd of been there when they disemboweled that pig, I'd of grabbed that motherfucking sledgehammer that they knock the pig in the head with, and knocked Godard up against his motherfucking head.

In Weekend, by actually slaughtering actual, living animals just for the sake of "art," Godard has--in my eyes--descended to the absolute nadir of hipsterdom. Which is something I've mentioned in class anyway. If he had half of the heart he seems to have become obsessed with portraying in his films, he'd of picked up a gun and started some shit. Instead of trying to shock and offend people with some half-ass, jive bullshit about cannibalistic, hippy, revolutionaries going "back to the land," throw a fucking pipe-bomb through the window of a police station, start the shit, and get it over with--incite the change.

That's my whole fucking problem with hipsters and artists (which plague this city), instead of taking part in relevant forms of resistance, rebellion and civil disobedience, they just self-indulgently produce cowardly, hollow, half-hearted, only-when-it's-convenient, banal "works of art" about revolutionary bullshit. Yeah yeah, Godard illuminates some relevant and fundamental problems with the world in Weekend, and I understand why he would want to burn the proverbial bridge between him and the film industry, the art world, and the popular culture of the time--but when he slaughtered some innocent animals in the process of doing it, he burned the bridge with me as well. I'll bust that motherfucker in his head if I ever see him...

"...I cannot expect mercy if I am unwilling to give it."

Matthew Scully


Friday, December 5, 2008

"...the bill to come."

The entire time I was watching Jean-Luc Godard's, Two or Three Things I Know About Her, I was thinking about Mathieu Kassovitz's invaluably jarring film, La Haine. Especially during the scene where Juliette (Marina Vlady) is speaking in some random courtyard of a French housing project, and Godard has shot her only from the neck up. Even if those housing projects were not vast, sprawling, towering "rat cages" for human beings--which they indeed are--by only shooting Juliette from the neck up, Godard shrinks her presence in the scene to an even greater degree, and in doing so, lucidly conveys Juliette's--lamentable--insignificance in the grand scheme of what passes for "progress." The "housing project" in general, as a solution to the housing of large numbers of poor, forsaken people, has proven to be an utter failure--no matter what country they are in. And as a remedy to the societal debacle they are supposed to be ameliorating, they will go down in history as one of the worst examples of human indifference towards the well-being of other human beings.

The aforementioned relationship between Two or Three Things I Know About Her, and La Haine, can be expressed with the simple equation of cause and effect. In the repeated conveyances of human-forsakenness, and perpetuations of "class discrimination" that are inherent in "the planning of Paris," as depicted by Godard in Two or Three Things I Know About Her, we have the cause. And in the logical, inevitable, and understandable violence and unrest in La Haine, we have the effect.

In general, Godard is lamenting the sprawling freeways and--exponential--covering-up of the countryside with vast tracts of cement and concrete. "A landscape is like a face," is repeated in the dialogue, and the faces we see, are the mutilated and burned faces of Vietnamese citizens (the United States' deplorable war in Vietnam, of course, being another primary focus of condemnation in this film). So if a landscape is indeed, "like a face," than the face that Godard saw around Paris back in 1967, was a gruesome and scarred one. The manic sense of "progress" that was/is gripping the western world, not only continued at the expense of a vast multitude of human beings, but at the expense of the land as well.

In Two or Three Things I Know About Her--"Her" being Paris--Godard's condemnation of what was occurring, shows a prophetic foresight for what seems to be the inevitable consequences of mankind's manic sense of "progress"--this manic sense of "progress" being illustrated continuously throughout the film by repeated shots of construction. Aside from stranding large numbers of poor French citizens far from the hubs of activity, commerce, and employment, and expecting them to live in vast, sprawling, towering "rat cages" for humans, you then add to these already volatile circumstances, the pervasive police brutality and repeated, "accidental" deaths of youths in these housing projects, which are depicted in La Haine, and one has to ask: why wouldn't the people attack police stations, and periodically have country-wide uprisings

In this regard, Two or Three Things I Know About Her, is a lucid illustration of the early stages of the kind of human-forsaking, manic sense of "progress," which would ultimately result in the kind of country-wide riots that France has been rocked by in recent years. Despite a line in this film, where it is said that "no one knows what a city of the future will be like," Godard seems to have an idea. Back in 1967, as the Paris countryside was being destroyed, and large numbers of human beings--whose biggest sin in this world was being poor--were beginning to be corralled and housed like animals, Godard seems to have been one of the few to realize that there was going to be an--understandably--costly and destructive "bill to come."

Friday, November 21, 2008

No future.

Evolution is a process too slow to save my soul
But I've got this creature on my back
And it just won't let go
If I am only an animal
Then I can do no wrong
But they say I'm something better
So I've gotta hold on

Darby Crash (The Germs)

But Darby Crash, did not hold on. After disbanding earlier in the year, the seminal punk-rock band, The Germs, got back together to play--what would end up being--their last show, on December 3rd, 1980. Then, four nights later--on the eve of John Lennon's death incidentally--Darby Crash killed himself with $400 worth of heroine, in the poolhouse of his friend's mother's home (the girl who was supposed to die along with him, but survived).

The Germs were part of the "first generation" of punk-rock (the mid to late 1970s)--and a vital part of the Los Angeles contingent of the...uh...movement. Darby Crash's performances, as singer of the Germs, were often marked by bleak gestures such as self-mutilation, and showering the audience in food and blood. Crash (like Sid Vicious) was the epitomization of the fatalistic nihilism and disillusionment that summarily defined that particular generation of punk-rock--before of course, pockets of positivity and revolutionary vitality started forming later in the 1980s.

I begin my discussion of Jean-Luc Godard's ingeniously "alienating" (as the truth often is) and non-linear, Masculine Feminine, by talking about the fate of Darby Crash, for one primary reason. And it lies deep within the fate of a generation defined by the utterly irreconcilable paradox of "Marx and Coca Cola." Darby Crash is the tragic poster-child for the fatalistic nihilism and existential torment, of the generation that was the aftermath of Godard's "Children of Marx and Coca Cola." I do indeed believe that the generation that Godard's "Children of Marx and Coca Cola" embody, was a profound watershed. Not only had the Marxist revolution failed (as the ultimate inconsequentiality of France's student/labor uprisings of 1968 illustrates), but the essential ethics of struggle and sacrifice, that are necessary for such a revolution, were buckling under the sheer gravity and pervasiveness of the gospel of possession, convenience, and leisure, that was/is Western consumer culture. 

Which was no big deal, if you were a child of the bourgeoisie and upper classes. But if you were a child of the vast majority--or the lower classes--which did not get to enjoy any of the comforts and conveniences, terminal disillusionment inevitably followed the realization that the war was over with, and they won. And within a decade, came the nihilistic desolation of punk-rock.

Godard efficaciously illustrates the confusion of ideals and motives of France's youth of the time, in a number of different ways. For instance, the polling-interview that Paul (Jean-Pierre Leaud) does with "Miss 19." She has won a bit of a prestigious status that has given her the benefits of consumer culture. She knows little--if anything--about the wars occurring at that moment in the world, she owns a car, she doesn't know what "socialism" is, and doesn't care. But more importantly, she has been to the United States, and loved it. She is very attracted to what she feels it means to be an American--or as she says, it's like "Being somebody [and] having lots to do."

On the other hand, one particularly odd scene seems to convey--presciently--the forthcoming nihilistic tide. This is the scene where Paul is chased out of the arcade by the young man with the knife, who then illogically commits suicide, by stabbing himself. Another suicide occurs when a man lights himself on fire in front of the American Embassy to protest the Vietnam War (but I guess that suicide is noble, although that is a whole other discussion in and of itself). But in general, the male characters in this film, seem to be struggling to reconcile the irreconcilable--like Paul attempting to act like he cares about the labor or class struggle, and at the same time, get along with Madeleine (Chantal Goya) and her acutely narcissistic desires for fame and success.

Which brings us to the girls in Masculine Feminine. Enough has been said about Godard's misogynistic tendencies. There's no sense in going on about them here...but...considering the roles that women play in this film, it seems quite...uh...fitting that Elisabeth (Marlene Jobert) is eating an apple throughout her whole interview scene. The apple, of course, being a rather universal symbol of the--allegedly--inherent proclivities of women, towards such regrettable tendencies such as betrayal and desire and covetousness. Whether we buy that whole original sin crock or not, and despite her aspirations and moderate level of success as a pop-singer, Madeleine leaves us on as much of a dismal and doomed note at the end of the movie, as any other character or occurrence. After all, the last thing we hear her say--after indifferently agreeing with Elisabeth's version of Paul's death--is that she considers "a curtain rod" to be her most viable option in dealing with the life growing inside of her... future indeed. 

...Dragged on a table in a factory
Illegitimate place to be
In a packet in a lavatory
Die little baby screaming
Body screaming fucking bloody mess
Not an animal
It's an abortion

Body! I'm not an animal
Mummy! I'm not an abortion...

...Fuck this and fuck that
Fuck it all and fuck a fucking brat
She don't wanna a baby that looks like that
I don't wanna baby that looks like that
Body, I'm not an animal
Body, an abortion

The Sex Pistols

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"A nice grog..."

grog  \noun\  [Old Grog, nickname of Edward Vernon (1757) Eng. admiral responsible for diluting  the sailor's rum] : alcoholic liquor; esp : liquor (as rum) mixed with water

Was Francois Truffaut's, L' Histoire d' Adele H., supposed to be a comedy, because that shit was funny as hell? By the time Adele has lied about being pregnant and married to that poor fool, Lieutenant Pinson, and in that one scene where he is out riding around with his army regiment, and Adele is straight lurking in the bushes stalking his ass, and then she just pops out of the bushes--in front of all of his soldier friends--pulls out the pillow that, I guess, was suppose to be her fake pregnancy, and then throws a fistful of money at his ass...shit...that shit's as funny as that scene in Next Friday, when that Tawana chicken-head has keyed Dae-Dae's BMW, and maced him on his front lawn.

Nah, but seriously, L' Histoire d' Adele H. is pretty much the most boring, average, garden variety, Hollywoodish film (movie) we have seen yet. Which isn't necessarily a criticism...I guess...just more of an observation and/or impression. I guess it's also an excuse for the fatuous nature of what follows from here on out in this blog entry. With this film, at this point in Truffaut's career, and especially compared to the innovative uniqueness of films like, Les Mistons and Les Quatre cents coups, he seems to have--for good or ill--adopted a much...uh...safer formula for filmmaking. This circumstance, combined with the fact that this film is based on historical events (and I don't feel this is the time or place for a historical discussion) has left me--for the second time this semester--at a loss for thoughtful things to say. And consequently, I am--once again--forced to express myself outside the parameters of insightful, scholarly discussion. Or in other words, what follows is going to be a lucid example of oblique, evasive shit-talking and babbling. In fact, this particular blog entry, it is safe to say, and academically speaking, will be the most worthless entry I will write this semester, and I will apologize here for the fact that, whomever does read it in its entirety, will walk away stupider than they were before they read it. 

For instance, I'm not saying that--in real life--it would be amusing or entertaining to witness the gradual and systematic decay and collapse of a young girl's mental and physical health, due to a broken heart, but by the end of this film, it starts to seem pretty fucking funny. I mean, I thought that the character, Alphonse, in Truffaut's, La Nuit Americaine, was a hysterical dingbat when it came to dealing with the opposite sex, but mother of babbling god, compared to Adele Hugo, Alphonse is "too cool for school." Jesus, Adele Hugo, at least as her story is told by Francois Truffaut, is the poster-child for male-celibacy. In fact, if poor Adele Hugo's story illustrates anything, it illustrates the benefits of being a genuinely vain, shallow, and utterly self-absorbed person, because if Adele was such a person--as plenty of us can attest--it is quite difficult, if not downright impossible to become so enamored of any particular person (except of course, for that beautiful motherfucker in the mirror every morning). Holy shit...did I just say that?

Aside from all of that doggerel, I like these filmic depictions of "olden" times, because them fools talked funny, and shit was just weird. Like when that amiable old SOB, Mr. Whistler comes over to see how Adele is feeling, and she can't come down and see him because she's in bed with a case of pleurisy. What the? And speaking of Mr. Whistler, I like how dude owns a book store, and when Adele comes in looking a little...uh...sallow, he offers her "a nice grog"--at a book store, in the middle of the day. I want some "nice grog," at a book store, in the middle of the day. That shit's as funny as that one time back in one of the other days, on Saturday Night Live, when Bill Murray had to go see the barber (it was "olden" times), for a "good bleeding," because while he was "over celebrating at the festival of the vernal equinox," he had "a little too much mead, and dotted out in front of an ox cart." I love that shit...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Some money for the whorehouse...

"The only reason I'm in Hollywood is that I don't have the moral courage to refuse the money."
                                             Marlon Brando

All of a sudden I feel like my blog entries are all becoming malevolent and sardonic--my last entry for Jean-Luc Godard's, Contempt, after all, is downright hateful. But then I remember that the current film I'm writing about, Francois Truffaut's "self-conscious" "feature," La Nuit Americaine, as well as Godard's, Contempt, are both films about...well...making films. And their "insider's" look at the degenerate nature of the small class of people who populate this gratuitous and nonessential (if not downright detrimental) industry, of course explains my rancor. Although Truffaut's film shows a...uh...more benign and "romantic" side of filmmaking, it still illustrates the childish dysfunction and acute narcissism of a class of people that I would just assume see collectively tied to cinder blocks, at the bottom of the Detroit River. Included in this desire, would be the veritable ocean of insignificant, sycophantic, "aspiring," desperate, groveling underlings doing all of the "behind-the-scenes" work as well.

But since we are discussing the French New Wave, and not--directly--the pervasive detriment of Hollywood and our modern media juggernaut, it is necessary to not get carried away here. And anyway, my entry for Godard's, Contempt, is probably as much as I need to say about all of that. La Nuit Americaine is Francois Truffaut's filmic admission of his life-long love and obsession for the art of filmmaking. And in its purest, most unspoiled form, before money, fame, and success have profaned it, that is a love I can dig and respect. Perhaps the sincerest conveyances in this film, of Truffaut's love and passion, are nothing more than a couple of brief, dreamy interludes. Of course, there is the repeated flashbacks to Truffaut's childhood mission, of stealing Citizen Kane posters from a theatre. But the most elegant and subtle conveyance of Truffaut's love, is simply the brief interlude where we hear the beautiful and melodic score over the telephone (and in the diegesis), as we see Truffaut thumb through a number of books on films and his favorite auteurs. I feel that this is a graceful and dignified gesture of respect and admiration to his influences and inspirations.

But that is where the poetry ends. The rest of the film is--consciously or unconsciously--one dizzying and irritating example after the other, of what a sordid, dysfunctional, contemptible, pampered, unreasonable class of people populate the film industry. From Severine's (Valentina Cortese) inebriated vacuousness, to Alphonse's (Jean-Pierre Leaud) fatuous pitifulness, we are continuously subjected to the kind of melodramatic bullshit that one expects from spoiled children. And what makes this all worse, is the unarguable fact that there is no exaggerating exactly how fucked most of these kind of people are. Despite the harmlessness of Julie's (Jacqueline Bisset) admittedly laughable request for "tub butter," as she balances on the brink of--yet--another emotional collapse (after sleeping with that pitiful dingbat, Alphonse), it still makes a conscious human being want to throw her out of the fucking window. Or at least start looking for the aforementioned cinder blocks. And likewise, when that miserable wretch, Alphonse, finally leaves his room after being--understandably--dumped for the stuntman, and declares that he needs some money for the whorehouse (although that is pretty fucking funny--pitiful, but funny).

In this context, and combined with the myriad of other obstacles and challenges the director faces, it is--indeed--easy to say that La Nuit Americaine is an extremely "romantic" depiction of an artist's struggle to simply finish his film. Which seems fine. Truffaut obviously loved the art of filmmaking, and as I've already stated, I can respect that. Any condemnation I have, does not lie in the accuracy of this film's portrayal, of the formidableness of making a "feature"--I'm sure, that in this respect, the film is dead on. My vehement condemnation and animosity lies with the actual class of human detritus this film portrays. And in this respect, I wouldn't be honest, if I didn't say that Truffaut himself, sounds like he was a little too self-indulgently shrouded in "romantic" subjectivity, if he was indeed confused (actually, his own word was "tormented") about the question: "Is cinema more important than life?" That sounds like the kind of Hollywood director that would spend twice as much time and money making a film about some kind of awful tragedy, than what he would spend in time and money to actually help ameliorate it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Eat the rich.

Warning: If easily offended, abandon ship right here...

First of all, and especially compared to Anna Karina, I don't--for the life of me--understand what all of the fascination and obsession with Bridgette Bardot was all about. Granted, I've never found that whole blonde hair/blue eyes idea of beauty very appealing, but besides that, Bardot just seems kind of bland and frumpy. Not to mention, the color in Jean-Luc Godard's, Contempt, makes Bardot's hair look like a shoddy shade of yellow straw, and makes the character Camille look like the kind of girl you'd meet while hanging out in the parking lot of a White Castle restaurant on Gratiot, in an old, teal Dodge/Grand Am with a "princess" sticker on the bumper, in some wretched shithole of a city like Warren or Roseville, smoking joints of brown weed, and slamming cans of warm PBR to old Def Leppard songs.

But enough of all of that foolishness. The reason I'm minoring in film, is to perhaps have the option of teaching it eventually. I want to teach it because I consider the film industry as a whole (despite a few fleeting pockets of creativity and value) to be the biggest, most detrimental, most expensive, most insidious sedative that the American public uses, to ignore the world and country that is falling apart around them. And if I was to teach film, it would give me an opportunity--perhaps--to repeatedly illustrate what a colossal waste of resources, time, and attention it all is, and how some of the most insatiable, venal, contemptible, malignant, terminally narcissistic examples of human detritus walking among us, are inevitably and logically produced by this industry. And if the people ever organize (or are pushed hard enough) to finally have the initiative to fight the class war that some of us have been waiting and preparing for, these film people will be some of the most deserving targets of wrath.

Obviously, the character of Jerry (Jack Palance) in Contempt, is a lucid embodiment of the kind of person I speak of. In all actuality, the character of Jerry would be completely laughable, if not for the disheartening fact that there are plenty of human beings running around that are indeed that fucked. And it really is difficult to overstate how staggeringly fucked some of these people are. Perhaps one subtle example is, when Jerry mentions how he likes Gods, because as he says, he knows "exactly how they feel...exactly." If nothing else, this conveys one particular reason that, when the class war comes, and after twenty-some years of vegetarianism and veganism, the first flesh I will taste, will be the flesh of someone like Jerry (ah, settle down, I'm only half serious).

That's not to say that Paul and Camille aren't both rotten in their own mediocre ways, but their form of wretchedness doesn't exist at the expense of so many other people. Paul and Camille simply illustrate how doomed a relationship between a man and a woman is, when it is bereft of things like honesty, love, trust, faith, commitment, etc. Compared to Jerry's acute level of pure, acrid malignancy, Paul and Camille just kind of seem like your garden-variety, insignificant, bourgeois hyenas--like many of the fatuous, aspiring couples we have running around in our country these days (as our exorbitant amount of divorces attests to).

Yes indeed, the day is coming for the tiny class of human detritus that is embodied in the character of Jerry...

I got something to say
I killed your baby today
And it doesn't matter much to me
As long as it's dead

Well I got something to say
I raped your mother today
And it doesn't matter much to me
As long as she spread

Sweet lovely death
I am waiting for your breath
Come sweet death, one last caress

Last Caress (1982)
The Misfits

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"Go on, asshole! Go to war, fast!"

Jean-Luc Godard's disquieting anti-war film, Les Carabiniers, is the bravest film we have seen yet. Vivre sa vie was brave--and honest--but Les Carabiniers is so stark in its condemnation of the waste and destruction of war, and of the vacuous willingness of the common people who are duped into doing the actual fighting, that it is completely surprising that Les Carabiniers was allowed to be released. Especially considering that it was released one year after France's barbaric colonial endeavor in Algeria had failed.

One selfish, personal reason I particularly like this film, is because it is a powerful affirmation of my opinion (expressed in my essay), that any claims that Jacques Demy's fatuous musical, Les parapluies de Cherbourg, is supposed to be some kind of anti-war statement, are unfounded. Les parapluies de Cherbourg's irresponsible dismissal of the atrocities that the French visited upon Algeria, is illuminated when juxtaposed with the blunt, "alienating" (as the truth often is) starkness of Les Carabiniers. Of course it has been said that Demy was not trying to make an anti-war film. But if this is the case, than he did indeed use the Algerian War for nothing more than a peripheral backdrop for the story of two French lovers. Which, considering the malignant intentions of the French in that war, seems as inappropriate as a story about a Nazi romance using World War II as the backdrop.

But I digress. In the character Michelangelo (who I call the village idiot), Godard has embodied every contemptible human trait that makes us, as a species, seem justifiably cursed and doomed. Acute stupidity, terminal gullibility, sleazy and vicious licentiousness, sophomoric insatiability, and a vacuous willingness (and perhaps need) to follow anyone who demands it. The vast and unfortunate ocean of Michelangelos throughout human history, have single-handedly enabled all of the monstrous, malevolent tyrants throughout human history, to commit the seemingly never-ending list of crimes against humanity that plague our history books. As that precious old SOB, Henry David Thoreau wrote in his invaluable essay, Civil Disobedience:

"The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgement or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones...such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs."

Or as the blonde, communist girl--that Ulysses and Michelangelo execute in the woods--says about the armies of the capitalists (but which applies to many armies): they act like nothing more than "evil insects," blindly and obediently and mercilessly working away for some queen (or king). Which brings up a point that came up in class. Is Godard necessarily condemning all war, or just when it is in the name of malignant causes like conquest? It is--after all--difficult to condemn war in some instances, such as self-defense, or to rid a country of invaders or conquerors.

In Les Carabiniers, Jean-Luc Godard doesn't really make the distinction though. It seems like an unsettling lament over war in general. All war is indeed unfortunate. But it also seems that war for shameful reasons like conquest, is where the primary condemnation of this film lies. This is conveyed in the film's focus on the futility of acquisition and possession of--among a long list of things--natural wonders, human beings (women), industry, and architecture. These are the kinds of incentive that the riflemen use to convince Michelangelo and Ulysses to fight. If they were fighting for causes as pure and warranted as freedom or independence--like say, what the Algerians were fighting against the French for--than it wouldn't require nearly as much convincing...

Friday, October 31, 2008

"You look stupid. And your hair is awful." (Or, a requiem for Nana.)

"...but I, prompted by that worst of devils, poverty, returned to the vile practice and made the advantage of what they call a handsome face be the relief to my necessities, and beauty be a pimp to vice."
                                                                       Moll Flanders
                                                                       Daniel Defoe

To begin with, in going from her role in Jean-Luc Godard's third film, Une femme est une femme, to her role in his fourth film, Vivre sa vie, Anna Karina has displayed an exceptional adaptability. In the former, the character of Angela--for the most part--is spoiled and childish, and in Vivre sa vie, the character Nana has--in a sense--been forsaken. Of course, the two characters are antithetical visually as well. In my eyes, the cute and dainty character of Angela in Une femme est une femme pales in gravity and presence, to one of the most tragic and bewitching antiheroines I have ever seen in a film--Nana.

If there is any continuity between these two roles, it is quite simply, Anna Karina's uncanny naturalness in front of the camera. In Vivre sa vie, Godard utilizes Karina's naturalness in front of the camera for all it's worth. Through prolonged close-ups of Nana (without dialogue), Godard uses Karina's stark, imploring, and bewitching (yeah, I used that word again, and I'll probably use it again before this is finished) facial expressions to convey more than the film does as a whole, through dialogue. In fact, some of the close-ups are so prolonged and candid (to the point of seeming uncontrived), and Nana's situation is so unfortunate, and so the product of the shameful and predatory proclivities of the men in her environs, that as a man, it is difficult at points to return her "Gaze."

I'd like to think that this is a manifestation of me--as a man--having a conscience. Because, as a man, Vivre sa vie illustrates a number of reasons to be ashamed of the motives and actions of other members of my gender. Even though, during her conversation with Yvette, Nana professes her belief that she is responsible for all of her actions, I do feel that her circumstances in this film illustrate the complex reasons why she is wrong in her belief. One scene that concisely conveys the dire circumstances that eventually drive Nana to prostitution, is the scene where she attempts to sneak into her apartment, after we've seen her repeatedly attempt to borrow 1000 francs from different people. Obviously she is homeless, which is a circumstance that--no matter how in control of our decisions we like to think we are--will drive anyone to extreme and desperate measures.

And of course, in this film, there is no shortage of assholes to facilitate Nana's extreme and desperate measures. And for that matter, there is no shortage of assholes to remind us of how petty, vicious, and unsympathetic men can be to a woman in such dire straits. One line in particular, that stands out as especially contemptible, and summarily conveys a disheartening flaw in the predominate reasoning of men towards women (to this day), is in the cafe, when Yvette's male friend wants to meet Nana. He asks his friend how to tell if she's a lady or a tramp, to which his friend answers:

"Insult her. If she's a tramp, she'll get angry; if a lady, she'll smile."

Nana, of course, smiles.

In this sophomoric question and test, Godard--perhaps unconsciously--illuminates the cursed, earthbound confines of male thought. This is not to say that women don't suffer from their own type of existential myopia, but that is not our concern here, nor does it generally exist at the expense of others--nearly--to such a degree as the myopia of men. The kind of human detritus that becomes a pimp, and thus has been reduced (and I do mean, reduced) to viewing women as only either one of two things--a lady or a tramp, is lost. Lost like any human being who has been reduced to the point that they no longer possess the capacity for sympathy or mercy. Lost like the monk in Carl Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, who comes to tell Joan that she is going to be executed--which of course produces empathetic tears in Nana. Lost like any human being (like the monk) who has become miserable enough to need to question another human beings' faith, by asking, "How can you still believe you were sent by God?"

Aren't we all?

Monday, October 27, 2008

"All that singing gives me a pain."

Throughout the life and world of celluloid, real and barbaric wars and conflicts have been repeatedly trivialized (whether consciously or unconsciously) by being used as peripheral backdrops, with which, a tragic circumstance or element is added to some romantic story line. In some cases this is fine, but in others, the romantic story in question involves characters from the side of the conflict that is in the wrong, and in doing so, reduces the film into nothing more than an irresponsible--if not morbid--dismissal of the wrong that has been done. In other words, it involves characters from the side of the conflict that has used shameless tactics, or has been fighting to preserve some kind of malignant institution or deplorable condition, or has exterminated large numbers of innocent lives, or--which is often the case--has been a wretched combination of all of these circumstances. Regardless of its--admittedly--admirable attempt to, as Jonathan Rosenbaum writes, show viewers "the traumatic effect of the [Algerian] war on French civilian life," Jacques Demy's musical, Les parapluies de Cherbourg, nevertheless trivializes a vicious and shameless colonial war that cost a staggering amount of Algerian lives, by using the war as nothing more than a backdrop for the story of two French lovers.

Perhaps it is not fair to go so far, as to lump Les parapluies de Cherbourg into the same ignominious category, as a film like Victor Fleming's "Epoch" about the American Civil War, Gone With the Wind--which fatuously and pitifully attempts to convince audiences, that there is supposed to be some kind of tragedy in the personal losses suffered by the slave-owning aristocracy of the antebellum south. Nevertheless, Jacques Demy's musical is supposed to show viewers that "ordinary" French citizens suffered during Algeria's war for independence. But when one considers the monstrous loss of Algerian lives (estimates range from 300,000 to over a million), the tens of thousands of injured and maimed, the millions of Algerians that were uprooted and displaced, and the abominable tactics used by the French (tactics so indiscriminate and detestable that they have become known as the "French School" of counter-insurgency), it becomes difficult to enjoy any of the singing in Les parapluies de Cherbourg, or the "sugar and spice" of Michel Legrand's musical score--or for that matter, feel very commiserative towards the tragedy of any French love that may have been lost. In real life (since this film is supposed to be concerned with the "ordinary"), if someone like the character Guy had any heart at all, he would have been one of the French citizens who got arrested for refusing to take part in that murderous colonial endeavor. He loses Genevieve in the end anyway, so at least he could have done it without the blood of innocent Algerians on his hands, conscience, and soul.

With all of that said, it does seem important, if this is to be fair, to consider--in Jacques Demy's defense--the milieu in France at the time this film was being conceived, filmed, and released, as well as the significance of what France lost. To begin with, France had been forced to relinquish Algeria in 1962 (because of the steadfast fighting of Algeria's Front de Liberation National)--just two years before Les parapluies de Cherbourg was released. It is important to remember how profoundly this loss hurt an already troubled France, that had been rocked domestically by an adamant anti-war resistance which was comparable in force and scope, to that which rattled the United States to its core, during the Vietnam War. France's government and military, as historian Michael H. Hunt writes, were already "frustrated and demoralized" from repeated losses and embarrassments that had preceded their loss of Algeria. "They had surrendered to the Germans during World War II," Hunt goes on to write, "and more recently [had surrendered] to the Vietnamese, had abandoned control of Morocco and Tunisia without a fight, and had suffered humiliation in the Suez crisis." Of course, aside from all of this, Algeria was also considered a vital, integral part of France, because of--among other things--its geographical proximity, just across the Mediterranean.

In this context, and considering the oppressive--virtually Fascist--repression of dissent in France at the time, it is a little easier to understand how some people could have considered Les parapluies de Cherbourg to be one of the first films released in the country, that confronted the negative and detrimental effects that the war had had on "ordinary" French citizens. In fact, in Agnes Varda's documentary about Jacques Demy, one French film critic even recalls that his parents--who were communists--insisted that Les parapluies de Cherbourg was "the first honest film about the Algerian war." If this is indeed the case, than that is pretty pitiful. 

Caroline E. Layde writes for senses of cinema, that Jacques Demy did at least attempt to address social and political realities, "but through [a] romantic, rose-colored lens." Well, after studying--exhaustively--about what exactly the French did to the people of Algeria, and learning that over 400,000 French citizens were willing to go over and take part in that colossal barbarism, it seems more fitting to say that Les parapluies de Cherbourg does not view Algeria's war for independence through a "romantic, rose-colored lens," but through a cowardly, dismissive veil. Compared to all of the death and torture, the fact that Guy and Genevieve lose each other's love, is as much of a poetic and insignificant incidental, as any anguish that that racist bitch in Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O'Hara might have experienced. In other words, when 400,000 "ordinary" French citizens are willing to take part in such an ignominious and vicious war, who cares about its traumatic effects on them?

And aside from all of that, "All that singing gives me a pain."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"You wear too much eye makeup. My sister wears too much. People think she's a whore."

I guess it is easy to see how Jean-Luc Godard could have been so completely smitten with Anna Karina, that he made a film like A Woman Is A Woman, just to--in a sense--gloat over her. But perhaps that is an unfair way of saying it. She is after all, "a natural" in front of the camera--perhaps too much so. In fact, as a male viewer, it is hard to not feel as though I am being--in a sense--seduced. When reflecting on the character of Angela in A Woman Is A Woman, it is difficult to overstate just how completely (to use an expression from our discussion in class) "self-conscious" the character is. I don't know if I'm aggravated, distracted, entertained, repulsed, or turned-on by the plethora of Angela's blatant displays of "self-consciousness" (for instance, sticking her ass out, and looking at it, every time she walks by the mirror in her and Emile's apartment), or if in fact, it is actually some kind of mixture of all of these reactions at once.

One thing I do know is, Anna Karina's performance in A Woman Is A Woman is a vivid display of pure, unadulterated, visceral vanity (not that all acting isn't, but these types of relationships between directors and actresses are extreme cases). How could it not be, when one of Godard's primary reasons for making this film was simply to exalt a woman that he was--at the time--obviously enamored of. Which is fine, I guess, but when I have a venerable feminist (meaning I respect her as a formidable intellect) like Laura Mulvey making me feel like I should feel guilty about something as rudimentary as...well...looking at what is front of me, by carrying on about the vast and unconscious intricacies of my male "Gaze," as it regards the female form, and how in some way, the female in question is being oppressed by my "Gaze," than the female and the acute vanity that has motivated her to be up on the screen, become a little fucking irritating. 

Mother of babbling god, that last sentence was a mouthful. I guess all of this is me acknowledging that I understand why feminists are concerned. But I can't get around the fact that nobody forced Anna Karina to make a bunch of films, whose underlying themes are how beautiful and unique she and some director/husband think she is. In the end, it seems to me, that film roles like that of Anna Karina in A Woman Is A Woman don't prove Mulvey's argument--they detract from it (and the feminist cause in general). And in doing so, they illustrate a profound lack of solidarity amongst women, that to this day, undermines a good deal of the progress that "the intimately oppressed" have fought adamantly for.

Alright--with all of that bellyaching out of the way, I feel free enough to say that I really did enjoy Jean-Luc Godard's vibrant "deconstruction" of the Hollywood musical. Likewise, I also feel freer to say that Anna Karina's pouty, charming, flirtatious, and unreasonable performance is deliciously entrancing. Especially when she sticks her ass out in front of the mirror, and looks at it (please forgive me Ms. Mulvey).

Technically speaking (which is something that I generally try to avoid) Godard's use of music is jarring and conspicuous, and does indeed break the traditional musical format to pieces (which is why I actually was able to enjoy it). Perhaps one of the queerest examples of Godard turning a scene on its ear through his use of music, is when he will plays dramatic, suspenseful crescendos over and over again, but nothing of consequence occurs. In regular musicals, after the crescendo has peaked, we are generally subjected to some singing and dancing (I assume)--a torment that some of us are thankful to Godard for sparing us.

Friday, October 17, 2008

"A woman like that."

Warning: This is going to be a long one. Also, this was written while listening to the almighty Fela Kuti doing "Lady," and if you listen to "Lady" while reading what follows, it willas far as I'm concerned, help put things in context.

I had been living in Chicago for about two years, and was back in Detroit to spend Thanksgiving with my family. As usual, my friend Eric picked me up from the Greyhound station the day of Thanksgiving eve (the biggest bar night of the year, blah blah blah), and we went to his house in Corktown and started drinking. It was--as always--good to be home. That night--since our friend Nick was head-bartender and we drank for free for the most part--we went to Fifth Avenue Billiards while it was still adjacent to Ford Field and the new Tiger Stadium, to get drunk and play pool. You're probably wondering, what does this have to do with our film class, let alone Francois Truffaut's ill-fated morass, Jules and Jim? And rightfully so, but if you--dear, appreciated reader--will bear with me, I will get to it soon enough.

So, Eric and I are drinking and playing pool, and by this time, have been joined by some other friends--namely, Jason, Donovan, and Dre, and all is indeed well, and we're getting drunk and having fun on the eve of this declining nation's "day of thanks" (where, incidentally, instead of fasting or some other genuine display of gratitude, we stuff ourselves even more than we usually do). All of a sudden I realize that some trifling-looking, blonde, bar-nymph has joined us. As the evening rolls on, I--at one point--watch her walk away from our group with Jason, which infuriates Eric, and later on, I see her walk away with Eric, which infuriates Jason. Eric ends up being the one to officially "hook up" with her.

Eric and Jason, to this day, (five or six years later) hate each other, and do not speak. What's even funnier is, Eric only "hung out" with the aforementioned "whore of Babylon" for a few fleeting months before she cheated on him, and moved on. But the fissure she created between these two alleged friends has endured to this day, and does not look like it is going to be bridged any time soon.

Damn, that took a lot of space to explain. What is my point? Well, in Jules and Jim, with the friendship between Jules and Jim, Truffaut has illustrated that if at least one friend is willing to act tolerant and reasonable when a woman attempts to wedge herself between two friends, that that friendship can endure. Truffaut illuminates the strength of the friendship that Jules and Jim share, to an even greater degree, by having it endure the two friends fighting on opposite sides of World War I.

But I'm forgetting Catherine (god forbid)--the woman with the statue's smile, who runs off and commits "some irreparable act" every time she does not feel "sufficiently appreciated." The only reason I can see, to not write Catherine off as an utterly cursed, predictable, contemptible, and malign creature (and the same for the "whore of Babylon" who got between my two friends) is that she only causes as much anguish and turmoil as she is allowed to cause--which in Catherine's case, is a whole bunch, including the eventual and poetic murder of Jim. In other words, Catherine would be harmless if it wasn't for the pitiful and infuriating defeatism and passivity of Jules, and the back-stabbing weak-mindedness of Jim.

In general, and whether it is conscious or unconscious, there is not one single redeeming female character in all of this film. In fact, the girl at the bar with the short hair (after Jim has returned to France), who is said to be--literally--to stupid for conversation, despite how erotic and fetching she is said to be by her...uh...handler, just may signify the all-time, end-all-be-all nadir of how women are portrayed in the world of celluloid. She's like nothing more than a beautiful tree with a pulse (dear god, where is Laura Mulvey when we need her?!).

Which, as I've written before, is all fine with me--it is just a movie. In real life, and as many lucky men know, there are, of course, as many selfless, strong, faithful, and intelligent women as there are "whores of Babylon." With regards to the latter though, I don't necessarily condemn them for getting away with what they are able to get away with. I do indeed believe in hating the "game" (as they say), and not the "player." Anyways, despite having an abundance of power over Jules and Jim, Catherine isn't any better off for it. In fact, she seems like a pretty tormented soul--hell, she even finally commits suicide. It all seems to boil down to how Jules and Jim, or for that matter, how my friends Eric and Jason decide they are going to act towards "A woman like that."

"A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it is finished no matter how brave its warriors or how strong their weapons."

                                            An old Cheyenne saying.

Friday, October 10, 2008


I am smitten with Maud. Which is an odd reality in and of itself, because I am rarely distracted by actresses, or musicians, or any media or celluloid figures of any kind. If she is not standing in front of me, it is hard for me to be distracted by a woman--or in other words, I need actual interaction and proximity. I've never understood those people who obsess over people they will never meet. But, after viewing Eric Rohmer's, My Night at Maud's, I feel compelled--literally, for the first time that I can remember, and at the ripe age of 37--to go out and try to find a poster of Maud (Francoise Fabian), and hang it up in my apartment. Weird.

It is difficult to pinpoint, exactly what point in the film I realized that I was indeed, smitten, because at first, Maud irritated me a little bit. I know that when she pulls her hand away from Vidal, I was starting to like her. But, I think I was officially, smitten, at that point where Jean-Louis and Vidal have just arrived at her apartment, and told her that they have been at church, at a Christmas Eve mass, and she deliciously admonishes them that they both "stink of holy water." Yep, I think that that was the exact moment that I realized that--with Maud--Eric Rohmer has, not only found a devastatingly entrancing actress in Francoise Fabian, but he has also created an intoxicating, stark, passionate, brutally honest, and utterly believable character.
Not to mention, a female character that--quite refreshingly--breaks with the trite habit of films back in the 1960s, to treat female beauty like it only comes with fair features and blonde hair.

Maud's honesty and directness is illuminated by the juxtaposition with, as Rahul Hamid puts it for senses of cinema, "Jean-Louis's self-deception...[and] sophomoric test of male self-control." In fact, Maud, throughout the glorious scene of Jean-Louis's night in her apartment (Rohmer's dialogue in this scene being some of the best I've ever heard), makes it easy to see how Jean-Louis and Vidal are suffering from--as Maud says--a "protracted adolescence." Dear god, between Vidal's pitiful groveling and Jean-Louis's fatuous (but admittedly harmless) "Jesus Complex," she really does command the scene.

But Jean-Louis's "protracted adolescence" shines bright enough without her around. We find Jean-Louis--after all--in the very first scene of the film, sitting in mass in a church, ogling his nice, little, blonde, Catholic girl. Which is fine, I guess, but for someone who goes on and on about his faith and self-control, you'd think that, at least at worship, he could focus on god. I would never detract from the kind of admirable integrity it takes to abstain from sex--especially the fleeting wonderfulness of a one-night stand--but Jean-Louis seems to be doing it because of some kind of self-righteous, self-deceptive, existential conundrum he is in the grips of, not for any kind of genuine spiritual goals. This glitch in Jean-Louis's reasoning is the defining quality of his whole half-hearted, only-when-it's-convenient kind of faith--it's based on odds and "wagers," not on "true faith." That whole wager of Pascal's, and how it applies to having faith, is as shoddy as "finding god" because you're in prison--I guess.

In the end, as we are given hints about the "painful irony" involving Jean-Louis's nice, little, blonde, Catholic girl, and Maud, we see that all of the praying and time spent in church, still didn't prevent the nice, little, blonde, Catholic girl--and all of her piousness--from being Maud's ex-husband's mistress. We get a hint of this indiscretion, from Vidal, earlier in the film, when he is introduced to the nice, little, blonde, Catholic girl (even though he obviously already knows her), and also when Jean-Louis and her meet Maud on the beach. Also, in the end, and as Rahul Hamid writes, there is that delicious sense of "wistful regret" between Maud and Jean- Louis, which is conveyed by their questions to each other, about visits to where they each are currently living. And how couldn't Jean-Louis regret passing Maud up? When we see her in that last scene, her hair is longer, and all down, and it looks even darker because of how tan she is, and she is wearing that splendid summer dress, and in general, just looking crushingly exquisite.

But, Jean-Louis has to go back to his nice, little, blonde, Catholic girl...


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

That one tree outside of the orchard...

                                                                                                                                                                   Disclaimer: Aside from the fact that the following rant was written under the influence of cheap cognac, I am the son of a beautiful, faithful, and honest (to a fault) woman, who was wronged by an inherently good, but utterly lost man (my father, god bless his soul). I take infidelity very seriously, as it caused a lot of hurt and turmoil in my family, and thus, I must ask you--dear reader--to bear with the pervasive presence of cuss words in what follows. To edit, would be to rob the following words of their sincerity.

Carloss James Chamberlin, writing about Agnes Varda's, Le Bonheur, writes that "Jacques Demy, Varda's husband, thought the film's conclusion monstrous," and so do I--even if poor, sweet Therese accidently fell into the pond. Which is of course, bullshit, because it seems pretty obvious that she killed herself. The little flash of Therese struggling to save herself by grabbing the branch, in my eyes, is simply Francois--that treacherous fucker--attempting to alleviate some of his guilt, over the manifest fact that his wife drowned right after he told her of his affair. Chamberlin seems to agree that Therese killed herself as well, as he writes that "her action, which will change everything, and nothing, is a perverse token of her love."

Therese's death is the hinge of the story. After all, this is a story about "happiness" (or the lack there of), and the fact that Therese kills herself as a result of Francois' infidelity, makes his infidelity even worse, because it has caused Therese so much hurt, that she is driven to suicide. If we're supposed to believe that Therese is fine with Francois' fatuous doggerel about trees "outside of the orchard," and that her drowning is simply an accident, than it does indeed "change everything."

Or does it? Hasn't the damage already been done? When Francois cheated on his wife (and his children, because when people cheat on their spouses, whether they ignore the fact or not, it effects the children involved just as much), he was thinking about one person's "happiness"--his. And fuck him for it. Whether Therese accepts it or not, is beside the point of what makes this whole deal a wretched imbroglio to begin with--Francois being a selfish, weak-minded, predictable motherfucker.

But Therese does not accept it. After that treacherous fucker--Francois--lays that bullshit about orchards on Therese, she kills herself. Which leads to that "monstrous conclusion" that Varda's husband was talking about. This begins with Francois searching for Therese after he wakes up and she is missing. As he wanders around the park--with his poor children in tow--asking people if they've seen a "blonde," or a "blonde in a blue dress," or simply a "blue and yellow dress," he seems at this point, to have completely confused his wife with any other attractive "blonde in a blue dress." This carries on a similar theme from a montage earlier in the film, that consists of flashes of close-ups of Francois in bed with the two different women, at different times. They just blur together, as if it doesn't make any difference who Francois is in bed with.

Then comes the final "monstrous" montage, to some kind of manic, demonic music from Mozart, showing Francois getting right on with his life (like Therese's death was no big deal), and moving Emilie right into Therese's place--with the kids and everything. And...well, all appears to be just fine.

Or is it? In the final scene (now in the Fall), we have Francois and Emilie and the children walking through the woods, and all of the colors in the scene are browns and yellows (even the clothes that Francois and Emilie are wearing)--except for the kids, whose bright red outfits undeniably contrast sharply with everything in the scene. Varda is clearly conveying the sense that something does not fit--something is messing up Francois' little utopia. That would seem to be the kids--two little walking, talking reminders of poor, sweet Therese. 

Thursday, October 2, 2008

"...a kind of death."

Generally, I support most everything that feminists fight for, and agree with them about all of the problems in the world of old, wealthy, white men. Hell, I even accept most of what Laura Mulvey has had to say (regardless of how manic it seems at times). With this said, Agnes Varda has created a female character in Cleo From 5 to 7, that is difficult to empathize with, or for that matter, feel commiserative towards.

Despite the admittedly omnipotent, oppressive, and ubiquitous nature of patriarchal domination in our world (to this day, let alone back in the early 1960s), Cleopatra is simply not a happy or content human being, and thus, says and does a lot of contemptible shit. Yes, she is treated like a spoiled child by her caretaker-lady, and by her older-gentleman-lover-friend, and by the pianist, but how else do you react to a grown person who throws temper tantrums all of the time (even in public places)? But to answer this question, it seems necessary to first figure out if Cleopatra is a product of her environment, or if her environment is a product of her? She is the one--after all--who wants to be the music star.

This dilemma is analogous to--for instance--the demons and nasferatus of our modern media juggernaut, complaining about being hounded by the paparazzi. It makes you want to say...

"...are you really serious...Princess Diana decides to be a...well...a princess...and consequently, dies as a result of the kind of attention that accompanies that kind of status...and...compared to all of the heartbreaking war and starvation and suffering and poverty and chaos on this planet at this very any moment...we're supposed to care about what?"

That may be me coming at this obliquely...maybe. If so, Varda conveys the idea I'm trying to get across here, by including news broadcasts and conversations throughout the film, about debacles like Algeria's war for independence (which France and its cursed colonial proclivities deserved to lose and suffer for) and all of the other unrest and chaos occurring elsewhere. Of course Cleopatra is completely oblivious to all of this war and chaos--but by including it in the film, Varda is illuminating how comparatively fatuous and trivial the majority of Cleopatra's problems are.

But not to her, which is understandable to some degree, because all humans have to deal with things like fear and doubt and loneliness sometimes. And Cleopatra is also dealing with the anxiety--after all--of waiting for the test results that could tell her that she has cancer. The problem begins when she stops counting her blessings, starts taking things for granted, and thus, ignores the fact that there is always a multitude of other human beings suffering far more than her (of course, this applies to any of us who live in even moderate prosperity and comfort).

Anyways, it isn't only Cleopatra's indifference to all of the disheartening shit happening elsewhere in France and the world, that makes her contemptible to me--it's also her pride and vanity (which I do acknowledge can be a result of inherent pressures of the patriarchal world she lives in, although I still feel that that is a lame excuse). Like her model friend says when her and Cleopatra are discussing being nude in public: "My body makes me happy, not proud." This is an alien concept to someone like Cleopatra, who is in a perpetual state of myopic intoxication, from the elixir of self-exultation. What's worse, is that her self-exultation is rooted in something as shallow and fleeting as physical beauty.

Although it sounds utterly cliche, we all nevertheless know it to be true--someone can be completely beautiful on the outside, and at the same time, acutely hideous on the inside. And in this regard, and as Cleopatra herself states in the film, the cancer just may be too late, if indeed "ugliness is a kind of death."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"The obvious necessity of remembering."

"Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."
Thomas Jefferson

To speak honestly and starkly about the bombing of Hiroshima (or for that matter, Nagasaki), it is first necessary to remember the scale of the destruction, and the pretenses under which the bombings were carried out. "Those 100,000 killed in Hiroshima," writes Howard Zinn in his invaluable tome, A People's History of the United States, "were almost all civilians." This fact negates Harry Truman's erroneous claim that the city of Hiroshima was chosen as a target because it was "a military base." In a flash of light "the temperature of the sun," those 100,000 lives were annihilated, and tens of thousands more were burned, maimed, and contaminated (to effect future generations indefinitely).

In Hiroshima Mon Amour, Alain Resnais attempts the daunting and delicate task of confronting this ignominious manifestation of hell on earth. The task is daunting because of the difficulty of depicting an act of malevolence and destruction that can--quite literally--be considered biblical in proportion. The task is delicate because the film was released just fifteen years after those infamous days of August, and the wounds--both emotional and spiritual, as well as physical--had barely had time to heal (many of which, of course, never will). So it was--and still is--important to consider that there are boundaries of what is appropriate to recreate and represent.

Resnais efficaciously and tactfully toes this line, by approaching the tragedy obliquely, using sharply contrasting juxtapositions of images, and a story line riddled by nonlinearity. The primary focus of the story is of a Japanese man and a French woman, and a twenty-four-hour tryst they are locked into. What the two of them have in common, is that they have both suffered due to being, either on, or associated with the losing side of World War II. He, because his family was killed in Hiroshima (he was off fighting, and thus, spared), and she, because her first love was a doomed German soldier who was part of the German occupation of France. 

The most direct attention the actual bombing of Hiroshima gets, is in the montage that makes up the first fifteen minutes of the film. Here, Resnais ingeniously illuminates the barbaric nature of the bombing, by juxtaposing actual images of the aftermath, with images of the two lovers embracing each other. Meanwhile--in what seems to be the non-diegetic soundtrack--she is saying that she can see and understand the destruction, and he is saying that she couldn't possibly see or understand. The stark contrast in textures, between the grainy images of hate and war, and the smooth images of love and affection intensify the vast gulf between the two.

The French woman is correct when she states that there is indeed an "obvious necessity of remembering." Perhaps, if that manifestation of hell on earth is never forgotten, it will never happen again (although, unfortunately, it is dangerous and irresponsible to underestimate the depths of hate that some humans dwell in). Nevertheless, it is essential, that in our remembrance, we are considerate and commiserative of those who have suffered. In Alain Resnais' lament, Hiroshima Mon Amour, this has been accomplished.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The lawlessness of it all...

Going from viewing the dull and predictable linearity of a film like Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob Le Flambeur, to viewing Robert Bresson's idiosyncratic imbroglio, Pickpocket, is a jarring experience, that intensifies and illuminates Pickpocket's unsettling effect. And Pickpocket is indeed unsettling--if for no other reason than the fact that it is almost always unsettling to have to look at the world through someone else's eyes and in someone else's mind. Which is where, as viewers, Bresson keeps us throughout Pickpocket--in Michel's head.

Pickpocket is one of those rare films that is so steeped in character subjectivity, that it is downright uncomfortable to sit through at points. But in a good way, that one would never consider retreating from--kind of like that long scene in Stanley Kubrick's, 2001: A Space Odyssey, where one of the astronauts has to go out in space to repair the exterior of the ship, and for ten minutes of the film, all that can be heard is the astronaut's (diegetic) breathing in the spacesuit. Kubrick ingeniously creates a disquieting sensation of claustrophobia, by utterly submerging his viewers into the subjective perceptions of his characters. Which, once again, and depending on the particular character and situation, can be a harrowing viewing experience (in other words, it is not necessarily how the film is filmed, or a lack of music in the soundtrack, or a frustrating story line that makes us uncomfortable, but having to look at things from someone else's perspective).

In Pickpocket, Bresson has done just that, by giving us no other perspective but Michel's. As Rick J. Thompson writes, Bresson limits "viewers strictly to that which [Michel]...sees, says, thinks, [and] writes." And by enveloping his viewers to such a degree, into the subjectivity of such a loner of a character, that is almost completely isolated from other humans in any social sense, Bresson has burdened us with a glimpse into a (perhaps) troubled mind--a glimpse that can be exhausting and irritating for some people.

But not for me. Although--with regards to the sordid and often vicious nature of human society--I do not totally agree with Michel when he says that his thievery "could set it right," I do indeed agree that "It's already upside down." But Michel betrays his dedication to his craft, by attempting to paint it (to the cop) as some kind of righteous, revolutionary endeavor to balance the differences between things like the law, and justice; or between white-collar crime and blue-collar crime. Quite simply, Michel is young and bored, and in the grips of some kind of existential crisis, and the instantaneous rush of anticipation, anxiety, fear, and excitement that accompanies his lawlessness, temporarily saves him from the monotony of his existence.

It is kind of like those homeless kids in South America, who climb on top of those speeding trains, and act like they are surfing (often falling off and dying). The rush and adrenaline is the only thing that can clear the head of all of the trying, awful shit we have to deal with everyday of our lives--but unfortunately, only for a moment or two at a time.

In fact, as a skateboarder of 25 years, I sometimes feel sorry for people who have never discovered the therapeutic value of breaking laws and scaring the shit out of yourself on a regular basis. 

Or as Charles Bukowski once put it:

"Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Famous last words...

Considering that I find the whole American "Gangster" genre to be, not only irritating and monotonous, but bogged down in fatuous cliches as well, it makes perfect sense that watching a "gangster" film made by a French director whom, as Roger Ebert writes, "inhaled American gangster films," is as painful as the slow extraction of one of my teeth.

Now, I am not so myopic in my acute disdain for "gangster" films, that I can't appreciate Jean-Pierre Melville as an artist (and as the genesis of the "New Wave"), especially in the context of when, where, and how Bob Le Flambeur was made. If nothing else, the utterly predictable story line, and absurd characters are made bearable by the dreamy interludes of Parisian landscape (especially the opening scene) as shot by Henri Decae. But nevertheless, it was difficult to sit through this film, and thus, I am--for once--at a loss for thoughtful words about it. It is at moments like this, that one is forced to resort to other means of self-expression--in other words, sarcasm and slight.

Case in point...

...the most thrilling moment in the entire film is--by far--when Bob smacks Anne. Dear god is that a glorious smack! It messes her hair up and everything. In fact, it looks like it must have actually hurt when they filmed it. Mother of babbling god, and does she deserve it too, although, not as much as that pitiful dingbat Paulo does. Poor ol' Paulo and that woeful expression on his face when he deduces that Anne has had...uh...carnal knowledge of that treacherous punk, Marc, is the funniest moment in the film.

But I digress...I was discussing that glorious smack. Melville is gracefully and nonchalantly trampling all over the whole feminist movement with that one glorious smack--where is Laura Mulvey when we need her? But of course, that glorious smack is merely the shining apex of the all out, frontal assault Bob Le Flambeur wages on anything and everything feminist. From the greed and duplicity of the wife of the guy who supplies the layout of the casino, to Anne's licentious vacuousness, in a film that is rife with allusions to the honor and decency of men (even criminals), women (except for Bob's bartender friend of course) are portrayed as simple, petty, loose, and deceitful.

Which is all fine with me--it is just a movie. As I stated earlier, if anything in this genre in general, and in this film in particular aggravates me, it is the tedious predictability of the story lines. Jesus, when Paulo tells Anne about the plans to rob the casino, it is completely obvious that that "nimble little minx" is going to eventually let that proverbial cat out of the bag. And of course, when Bob has just won at the track, and his friend is trying to convince him to quit while he is ahead, Bob predictably utters those famous last words...

"I'm on a roll."